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Coalition Of Immigrant and Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Florida’s Costly and Discriminatory S.B. 1718 Law

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S.B.1718, Passed By State Republicans To Aid Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ 2024 Presidential Aspirations, Targets Families And Workers Integral To Florida’s Economy

A coalition of immigrant and civil rights organizations have launched a federal lawsuit against Florida’s anti-immigrant S.B. 1718 law, suing Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials on behalf of U.S. citizens, undocumented immigrants, and others who routinely travel into and out of Florida and could be punished with jail time under the draconian legislation. 

Under one of the harsh provisions (and there are several) of S.B. 1718, drivers could be charged with a felony for transporting an undocumented person into the state, even if it’s a loved one. The complaint states this cruel Section 10 provision “is phrased in a way that could sweep in all manner of immigrants, including people who are lawfully present in the United States or are in the process of seeking lawful immigration status.” 

The law, which went into effect earlier this month and has been at the center of massive protests led by Florida workers and their allies, also raises major concerns about racial profiling, organizations said. Florida is one of the most diverse regions in the nation, with immigrants making up more than a fifth of the state’s population.

“This harmful anti-immigrant bill is unconstitutional, xenophobic and will increase the unlawful racial profiling of Florida’s Black and Brown communities, said Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. SPLC, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Florida, Americans for Immigrant Justice and American Immigration Council, launched the lawsuit on behalf of the Farmworker Association of Florida and a number of individuals.

Two of the plaintiffs named in the complaint are farmworkers who typically work year-round to feed the nation, working six months of the year in Florida, and traveling out of state for the remaining six months. “This year, however, they did not leave Florida to work out-of-state because they were frightened that if they left Florida, they would not be able to return, due to Section 10,” the complaint said. This could affect their livelihoods, and our nation’s food supply, advocates said.

“Not only is this law detrimental to our members’ abilities to put food on their own tables, it is detrimental to our members’ ability to put food on everyone’s tables,” said Nezahualcoyotl Xiuhtecutli, PhD, general coordinator of Farmworker Association of Florida. “Florida’s SB 1718 is a self-inflicted wound — the product of short-sighted lawmakers unable to see beyond the most immediate political opportunity.”

While some essential workers are too afraid to leave the state, others are afraid of staying in the state, as confirmed by one of the very Republican state lawmakers who helped pass S.B. 1718. “We are losing employees,” GOP State Rep. Rick Roth said during a June community meeting held for the sole purpose of convincing workers to not flee Florida. “They’re already starting to move to Georgia and other states.”

We saw this same pattern play out in Georgia more than a decade ago, when the state passed its own anti-immigrant law and generated headlines like “Immigration law already hitting Georgia farmers,” “Crackdown on illegal immigrants left crops rotting in Georgia fields, ag chief tells US lawmakers,” “Georgia’s Harsh Immigration Law Leaves Crops Rotting in Fields,” and “Ga. immigrant crackdown backfires.” Key parts of Georgia’s anti-immigrant crackdown were subsequently struck down in court. Families and individuals now targeted in Florida hope that S.B. 1718 meets a similar fate.

“I’m suing because this law harms our family and many others. We aren’t doing anything to hurt anyone. On the contrary, we’re here working, paying taxes and trying to provide a safe life for our families,” Plaintiff M.M. said. She currently has a case before the Miami Immigration Court “based upon the extreme harm and trauma that her U.S. citizen children would suffer if their mother were to be deported,” the complaint said. 

One of her children is a first-time Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applicant blocked from enrollment due to GOP litigation. Another child, a 19-year-old U.S. citizen, is the family’s licensed driver. M.M. says she fears for her family’s well-being under the new law. “Now we’re scared to even travel together as a family,” she continued. “I would never want my son to face a felony for traveling with his mother and his sister. It makes no sense. We’re family — how can this be?” 

DeSantis is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination in part on the supposed strengths of S.B. 1718 when in reality its even faced criticism from the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board, which called the law a “misfire” that will only “exacerbate the state’s labor shortage.” Major industries that need immigrant workers, like agriculture, hospitality, and construction, are already beginning to suffer.  

“I don’t have many people who are working right now,” Sanchez Farms owner Fidel Sanchez told Spectrum News in May. “I have about 10 or 15 people who are harvesting what I have at the moment.”

“The Florida Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research group, estimates that without undocumented workers, the state’s most labor-intensive industries would ‘lose 10 percent of their workforce and the wages they contribute along with them,’” NPR reported in May. “That could lead to a drop of $12.6 billion in Florida’s GDP in a single year — about 1.1% —  which would, in turn, cut workers’ spending power and reduce state and local tax revenue.” What’s not as easily calculated are the human costs of S.B. 1718, and the pain it’s inflicting on the state’s families.

“This legislation is not the solution to any problem,” said Amien Kacou, staff attorney for the ACLU of Florida. “It is an attempt to scapegoat and terrorize vulnerable families and workers already burdened by the difficulty of the federal immigration process, and to pick a fight with the federal government in order to serve the ambitions of a few politicians.”